Obscure Iranian lawmaker gains spotlight after speaking out on censorship, corruption, repression

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Golnaz Esfandiari Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Until recently, Mahmud Sadeghi was an obscure legal expert whose most conspicuous professional accomplishment was a two-year advisory stint with Iran’s Education Ministry.

That changed with the 54-year-old’s election to parliament in Iran’s tightly controlled elections in February, as one of 133 relative moderates allied with reformist President Hassan Rohani to have won seats in the 290-seat legislature, known as the Majlis.

Iranian parliamentary deputy Mahmoud Sadeghi.
Iranian parliamentary deputy Mahmoud Sadeghi.

Government critics hoped their gains in parliament, and in the influential Assembly of Experts, would mark their return to relevance after more than a decade on the political sidelines.

Junior lawmaker Sadeghi, for his part, has been an irritant to the conservative and hard-line establishment ever since.

He has aired defiant criticism of state repression and censorship, grabbing the spotlight late this month as the target of an abortive arrest after he expressed suspicions around the financial dealings of one of Iran’s most powerful political figures, Judiciary head Sadegh Larijani. (Larijani has rejected the allegations as “lies.”)

Sadeghi rebuffed the security officers who arrived at his home on November 27 by citing parliamentary immunity, but it was arguably the mobilization of supporters via digital media that set the incident apart from other such raids in Iran.

News spread quickly on social media, users shared his address, and colleagues and activists gathered outside his house to prevent his arrest.

The officers backed down, although Tehran’s prosecutor has pledged that Sadeghi must turn himself in or face detention.

Sadeghi then vowed via Twitter that “pressure” would not prevent him and other lawmakers from “seeking transparency and fighting corruption in all [Iran’s state] institutions.

A ‘glimmer of hope’

Judiciary officials and hard-line media reported that Sadeghi was accused of “spreading lies” by private plaintiffs.

Sympathizers including deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari suggested that Sadeghi’s challenge of Larijani was the real reason for the pressure.

A number of Iranians have come out on social media to speak in support of Sadeghi, with some praising his “courage” and another suggesting that Sadeghi and Motahari alone deserve to be called people’s representatives in the Iranian parliament, widely known as being a powerless body.

“[Mahmud] Sadeghi is the best reformist lawmaker in the parliament,” wrote a Twitter user.

Another described Sadeghi as a “glimmer of hope” on the so-called List Of Hope, a reference to the coalition of reformist and pragmatist candidates ahead of February’s elections.

“This gathering, the people’s support, the writings — all of these, the public opinion pressure is aimed at preventing anything from happening to the only truthful [politician] of this system,” tweeted journalist Fateme Beykpour.

Attracting attention

Even before the attempted arrest, Sadeghi, had garnered attention for condemning the arrest of journalists and criticizing Iran’s aggressive filtering of Twitter.

Sadeghi was among 15 lawmakers who signed a letter to Larijani calling for a review of a 16-year prison sentence handed down to a leading human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi.

In an October speech to the parliament, Sadeghi blasted the arrest of a “significant number of journalists and media workers” on “vague accusations” — including alleged “infiltration” by enemies — that were raised by hard-liners following Iran’s 2015 deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

On November 12, Sadeghi said he would work to eliminate the filtering of Twitter, which is widely used by even the most senior Iranian officials despite Iranian authorities’ routine denunciations of such digital platforms as tools of the West.

“The filtering of Twitter has no justification,” Sadeghi tweeted. “The activity of senior establishment officials and many figures in this social networking site is proof.”

Days later, the lawmaker criticized a state ban on the commemoration of the killing of political dissidents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, a crime that Iranian authorities blamed on “rogue” Intelligence Ministry agents.

Sadeghi said neither the “savage murders” of the Forouhars nor the ban on their death commemorations was defensible.

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